On Friday, Sept. 2, Gail Middleton, a former student of the Sisters of St. Joseph, will place 256 flags on each of the graves of the deceased Sisters of St. Joseph in northeast Florida marking their 150th anniversary.
Beginning at 10 a.m. in San Lorenzo Cemetery, 1635 Dixie Highway in St. Augustine, where 192 Sisters are buried and continuing to the remaining seven cemeteries in northeast Florida, the flags will mark the commitment of these brave women to their mission in Florida.
The first eight Sisters of St. Joseph from Le Puy, France arrived in Florida on Sept. 2, 1866. In this turbulent period after the Civil War there were thousands of freed slaves without education and religion. The Sisters came to St. Augustine to answer the challenging request of Bishop Augustin Verot to educate and evangelize.
More than 100 missions have been opened throughout the state of Florida beginning with the first class of African-American children in 1867. In 1898, with funds provided by St. Katharine Drexel, the Sisters of St. Joseph began teaching African-American students at St. Benedict the Moor School in Lincolnville. Three Sisters, in 1916, were arrested for teaching black students during a time when segregation was prominent. St. Benedict the Moor School remained open until 1968 when Florida schools were integrated.
These extraordinary and courageous women were called by God to share a common cause and respond to the impulse of the Spirit. The Sisters ministered in elementary and secondary schools, schools for children who were mentally and physically challenged, orphanages, homes for unwed mothers, homes for the aged and infirm, catechetical missions for the migrant populations, and hospitals for the sick. Much of the Florida Catholic school system is a product of the good works of the Sisters.
“In 2016 the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine and countless Floridians who have benefited from their largess will celebrate their 150 years of service. Many events are planned to honor these good sisters; the capstone of which is a documentary produced by WJCT Public Broadcasting that will share the stories of these consecrated women and the good work they have done,” said, Bishop Felipe Estévez of St. Augustine
Celebratory 150th Anniversary Event:
Saturday, Sept. 3, at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, there will be a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by a former student of the Sisters of St. Joseph – Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami and six other Florida Bishops. A reception will follow Mass in the Gardens of the Motherhouse, 234 St. George Street. Tickets are required for the Mass. Call Jeanette Ghioto at (904) 824-9100 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.